Academic journal article Population

The Demography of a Learned Society: The Académie Des Sciences (Institut De France), 1666-2030

Academic journal article Population

The Demography of a Learned Society: The Académie Des Sciences (Institut De France), 1666-2030

Article excerpt

The demography of professional organizations and bodies is a relatively underdeveloped branch of demographic science, despite the apparent simplicity of the basic undertaking - namely, to measure, within a hierarchical group, the pace of transition from one "rank" to another, and the distribution of ages and lengths of stay in each rank. But many factors need to be taken into account: statutory requirements (seniority rules to qualify for promotion to a higher rank, for example); the age distribution at induction or at entry into a given rank; the (statutory) retirement age; the number of exits due to resignation, dismissal, or death; the rate of intake; and the change in total population size (usually defined in the statutes). In practice, the diversity of transition rules and their varying strictness make it hard to establish general "laws" except in special cases, such as a perfect stationary regime. These rules make it preferable to conduct simple projection or simulation exercises, such as those presented at the end of this article.

For France, special mention must be made of the pioneering work of Louis Henry (1971, 1972, 1975). In his studies of hierarchical bodies with well-defined operating rules, such as the French civil service, Henry showed that sharp fluctuations in the rate of intake had inevitable effects on the likelihood of promotion through the ranks and on the mean ages of entry into each rank. In particular, the establishment of a new body usually creates exceptional conditions because the age structure of the first entrants is very unlikely to match the expected structure of the population in a stationary regime. A number of older persons (though not too close to retirement) are co-opted to oversee a larger group of younger entrants, thereby creating from the outset a bimodal age distribution that can never spontaneously acquire a more regular profile later on. Moreover, as a rule, the number of entrants is strictly determined by the number of leavers, and hence by the number of retirements. It is very difficult for an administrative body to attempt to smooth out these fluctuations, since this would require anticipating on the likely situation in the years ahead. In the specific case of the French judiciary, F. Munoz-Pérez and M. Tribalat observed that, if "the annual intake matches the number of departures due to retirement, that number is already built into the population pyramid of the judiciary for the next 30-35 years" (Munoz-Pérez and Tribalat, 1993).

Nathan Keyfitz is one of the few specialists to have attempted to formalize some of the relationships that are useful for administering a professional body (1973, 1985). The findings from his study of the relationship between the growth rate of the organization and the length of stay in a given rank, confirm what experience has often shown, i.e. that one remedy for career bottlenecks is to increase the intake, and hence the group's total population. The question then is to know how long this "escalation" can be sustained.

Learned societies of the kind created in western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries represent a fairly straightforward example: members enter by election and remain until death (there is usually no mandatory "retirement age"); the total membership size remains constant, at least over a long period (the Académie Française has had 40 members since... 1635!). The demography of a closed population of this kind is simple: the annual intake is strictly determined by the number of "exits", i.e. deaths, an exogenous variable. However, there is one degree of freedom: age at entry, that is, at election. In principle, voters are entirely free to choose among potential candidates, and although age restrictions sometimes apply they are generally not onerous (for example, a minimum age of 25, or a maximum age of 75). But this freedom has a direct counterpart: it determines the number of persons elected each year, and hence the pace of membership renewal. …

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